Decade-old rape case gets solved by DNA match from another crime

ARRESTED | Jesse Lee Clark of Junction City, Ore. (Lane County Sheriff's Office booking photo)

LANE COUNTY, Ore. -- A Junction City man is now behind bars for a crime that happened more than a decade ago.

A woman reported being raped in 2007, and 37-year-old Jesse Lee Clark was arrested for it last week.

When the crime first happened in May of '07, the woman told the Lane County Sheriff's Office that her car had broken down in Eugene. That's when a strange man offered her a ride and help, then drove her to Crow, assaulted her, raped her, and left her on the side of the road.

"On the rare occasion where you have a crime that's been committed by a complete stranger to the victim, we collect physical evidence and we hope that at some point down the line we'll be able to identify who the suspect was," Lane County Deputy District Attorney Erik Hasselman said.

For eleven years, the DNA from her rape kit didn't match any DNA samples police already had on file.

That is, until this month, when Clark was arrested for another crime and just like that, there was a match.

"It is very exciting for investigators," Hasselman said. "It's rare that DNA is the one that breaks the case for us but it did in this case."

He said it's usually other factors that lead investigators to a suspect but DNA is like the gold standard.

It led the sheriff's office to complete their investigation and arrest Clark, and now the DA has enough to prosecute.

There is still another hurdle to overcome. The lapse in time presents some challenges; life goes on, witnesses forget or aren't available now, but Hasselman said that's why they always collect evidence at the time of the crime.

"Even with a significant passage of time a decade or more, if the evidence is strong we still have the ability, assuming it's within the statute of limitations, to pursue those cases and will" he said.

Investigators say this is a stand alone case, and it's not related to the statewide backlog of rape kits.

Though Hasselman said they've had some luck with DNA matches in a few of those cases too.

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